AS229: No Straw Men Allowed

It’s a Tommentary episode! Last week I let a straw man argument get by me and I even encouraged it. So, I spend the first part of this Tommentary trying to right that wrong. I never want to perpetuate straw man arguments if I can help it! From there, I take us on a look inward regarding no-platforming. If it’s wrong to no-platform someone like Dawkins or Namazie or whomever, is it right to no-platform Andrew Wakefield?

13 thoughts on “AS229: No Straw Men Allowed”

    1. Mike, thank you for the link to this article. I’d not read it before but it does address one of my concerns, namely, Is a dynamic of big money an important player in the GMO debate? – and if so, does it have undue influence? There’s more to explore IMO on ‘dynamics’ at play in GMO (or any) major change-thrust of human activity on/for/against social and earth-care stewardship and responsibilities. I need to spend more time reviewing the article, it’s long, which is I believe ‘a good thing’. Power of money as a persuasive strategy would I hope be undeniable as a key aspect and important variable in any analysis of human agency on any ‘frontier’. (Needless to say this also goes for ‘power of monetary drivers’ of any journalism, including NYT approach to the GMO money question, This article seems to at least attempt a balanced, ‘dispassionate’ view. … not quite fully successful but close enough to make valuable contribution to the larger question.)

      1. Having read the article I don’t think he’s been bought out, but the perception of his objectivity is tarnished. That being said If I were among his opponents I’d probably be pointing to the article as evidence he’d been bought out.

  1. If Wakefield’s study had simply been “debunked”, in the sense that scientific consensus had gone against it, you might have a point, but what happened was he actually committed fraud, and intentionally falsified results. Additionally he used painful, and intrusive procedures on children (to make money) despite knowing he had falsified the results that justified those treatments. It was for those things he lost his medical license. In my opinion he should be in prison, he certainly shouldn’t be given any money, or positive attention for what he did, I was typing as you spoke, so yes I was ahead of you. :p

  2. I don’t think deplatforming Wakefield is quite the same as deplatforming Dawkins or anyone else. One speaker is voicing an unpopular view and the other is voicing false data. I think as long it’s not the government deplatforming the speaker, it’s fine to do so. TriBeCa has the right the pick and choose which films they want to show, just like NECSS reserved the right to disinvite Dawkins (even though they changed their stance later). I also don’t think that just because someone has an unpopular view, they should never speak publicly about any other topic, that’s a little different. I agree with what you said that it’s different in the vaxxed case because the question has been answered and it is harmful to people to keep insinuating that there’s a conspiracy. The biggest thing I think is that one speaker could potentially kill people because of what they said, the other’s comments might hurt someone’s feelings.

  3. You raise an interesting question about the no-platforming issue and I think you’ve highlighted a very real point of hypocrisy among a lot of people who think “no-platforming” is a bad thing (usually when it happens to someone they like).

    For me there wasn’t an issue when the Vaxxed thing came up because no-platforming is a standard part of free speech, so I’m happy to defend Tribeca’s choice just as I was happy to defend NECSS’ choice.

    As for potential differences between the two, I’m not sure I’m convinced that many (if any) exist. It could be true that it’s different because Dawkins was discussing a social issue whereas Wakefield’s is a scientific issue, but to me that difference (if anything) means that it’s more important to no-platform Dawkins since social issues are massively important whereas scientific issues don’t necessarily have a real world impact (the vaccination case here not being an exception to that). And I think it’s letting people off a little easy describing views on social issues as “opinions” – they’re opinions but they’re opinions about real things and facts about the world. If they’re not based on evidence, and are in fact contradicted by evidence, then it’s no better than making claims about scientific issues without evidence.

    I’m not really sure where this stance against “no-platforming” came from. Just a couple of years ago it was the standard accepted position in the atheist community to support no-platforming, spearheaded by Dawkins himself who was almost known for his staunch no-platforming stance. Even today he holds the same views in that he refuses to debate creationists to avoid lending credence to their views. He even has the same position for other skeptics and atheists he disagrees with, like making sure Rebecca Watson isn’t allowed to speak at conferences he’s at.

    My view is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with no-platforming. If somebody is a terrible person and you don’t want to lend credence to their views, even if they’re going to be talking about something completely unrelated, then absolutely don’t invite them. There can be good reasons for no-platforming and bad reasons for it in specific instances, and we can debate those, but trying to draw a hard line against it doesn’t make sense to me. If Sam Harris is right when he argues that some views are so dangerous that they could justify nuclear first strikes, I’m pretty sure we can accept that some views are dangerous enough that we shouldn’t be willingly giving them more airtime.

    1. I know that Dawkins famously refused invitations to public debates, but that’s clearly not no-platofrming. When did he ever demand that someone shouldn’t be allowed to do a solo talk somewhere?

      1. He refused invitations and refused to invite specific people to conferences because he didn’t want to give air time to specific people and their views, that is textbook no-platforming. It is the action of limiting someone’s speech usually because of a disagreement with the content of that person’s views and/or a concern for the consequences of allowing that view to get more attention.

        He’s demanded that a number of people shouldn’t be allowed to speak at certain conferences, with one memorable example being telling the organisers of Reason Rally not to invite Rebecca Watson.

        1. In 2011 after repeated criticisms Rebecca Watson said about Richard Dawkins that he “will no longer be rewarded with my money, my praise, or my attention. I will no longer recommend his books to others, buy them as presents, or buy them for my own library. I will not attend his lectures or recommend that others do the same” Implicitly calling for a boycott of him, while claiming she wasn’t.
          If Dawkins did in fact asked the organisers of Reason Rally not to invite her good for him. That’s called retribution, or forcing her to lie in the bed she made, since her attending would have amounted to her attending one of his lectures. That wasn’t no platforming.

          1. “That’s called retribution, or forcing her to lie in the bed she made, since her attending would have amounted to her attending one of his lectures. That wasn’t no platforming.”

            What you’ve described is literally no-platforming. It doesn’t suddenly become “no-platforming” just because you happen to agree with his reasons.

  4. Thomas, I think you are right about the importance of being logically consistent with regards to the no-platforming. It is hypocritical to cry foul when people/positions one supports get silenced but then cheer when it happens to people/positions one opposes. After all, the free exchange of ideas is integral to liberty. Listening to your Tommentary introspection on the possible hypocrisy in cheering the anti-vax movie getting pulled gave me pause but I think it is not necessarily inconsistent.
    For example, it is commendable that Columbia University allowed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak in 2007. He was introduced to the audience by the University with “Mr. President you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.” By allowing Ahmadinejad to speak in person, his views and statements were able to be challenged directly in a way that would have otherwise been impossible.
    The film festival showing the anti-vax movie is different for one important reason: the potential for harm. The misinformed idea that vaccines cause autism actually kills kids. People who are dogmatically committed to this idea will not change their minds on the issue no matter what contradictory evidence they are shown. It is a conspiracy theory mindset. If it were the case that the science of vaccines could have been discussed by a panel of experts after the showing, I think it would have been acceptable to show the film. But showing it unchallenged is harmful because more minds will get infected with the misinformation and children will die because of it.
    I enjoy Jim Carrey’s movies but I would certainly boycott and advocate no-platforming any movie he made that was anti-vax.
    Am I being reasonable or am I rationalizing?

  5. Tom, your befuddlement on the pointlessness of the guy who gave an opinion, then told you to fuck off because you didn’t agree is mirrored 100% by every woman who is street harrassed or experiences unwanted sexual attention. So many guys feel free to yell all sorts of come-ons, then when they don’t get the response they want, yell an insult.

    “Hey baby, nice ass!” “Well you’re ugly, anyway!”

    These people are looking for affirmation, and the “fuck off” response is just self protection. Some people with weak egos or overinflated self importance react to rejection or a challenge with anything from insults to violence.

Leave a Reply